Lebanese President Michel Sleiman on Thursday urged the powerful Shiite group Hezbollah to end their participation in the war in Syria and “return to Lebanon,” saying their role was raising tensions at home.
In an interview with the As-Safir Lebanese daily, Sleiman said he was “against Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, because this intervention leads to tensions in Lebanon.”
His comments came after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said his group would remain involved in the Syrian conflict after helping regime troops win control of the town of Qusayr in central Homs province.
Activists and opposition fighters have said Hezbollah forces are now deploying at other key sites in the country, including in the north, where the government has vowed an offensive in Aleppo.
“If they [Hezbollah] participate in the battle in Aleppo and there are more deaths in the ranks of the party it will raise tensions further. Qusayr must be the end, and they must return to Lebanon,” Sleiman said.
“I have said that protecting the resistance is dear to me, but I also want to protect them from themselves,” he said.
“When I see that Hezbollah is acting in error, I tell them,” he added.
Sleiman has come under fire from allies of Hezbollah and Damascus for sending a memorandum to the United Nations complaining of “violations and acts of aggression against Lebanon from all parties to the conflict in Syria.”
Lebanon, despite an official policy of neutrality on the Syria conflict, has been increasingly affected by the violence tearing through its neighbor.
Rockets fired from Syrian territory have repeatedly landed in border regions loyal to Hezbollah, and last week a Syrian helicopter gunship fired two rocket at a Lebanese Sunni town where many residents sympathize with the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Lebanon’s army warned it had taken measures to ensure it could “respond immediately to any similar violations,” but the country has been largely powerless to prevent a spillover from Syria’s war.
The fight between the Sunni-led Syrian opposition and the government of Assad, whose Alawite faith is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, has also raised sectarian tensions in Lebanon.
In northern Tripoli, pitched battles have broken out frequently between Alawite residents of the city’s Jabal Mohsen district, and their Sunni neighbors in Bab el-Tebanneh.
And this week one person was killed in the southern town of Sidon in clashes between supporters of anti-Hezbollah Sunni cleric Ahmed al-Assir, and backers of Hezbollah.